October 24, 2008
The Huffington Post has dug up, and the Daily Kos and everybody else are commenting on evidence that McCain held a private secret meeting with Chilean dictator and torturer General Augusto Pinochet. But this is not just a story about John McCain's hypocrisy (what a shock that would be!). It's a teachable moment, and in two senses.
First, it's an opening to talk about McCain's more recent support for torture, a topic Huffington Post, Daily Kos, and other liberal blogs have been no more open to than the New York Times or Fox News. In 2005 John McCain championed the McCain Detainee Amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill for 2005, which passed the Congress and was signed into law by Bush, adding one more redundant ban on torture to existing U.S. law, despite Vice President Cheney having lobbied hard against it. But McCain allowed a major loophole for the CIA and then kept quiet when Bush threw out the whole thing with a "signing statement."
Bush and Cheney's administration continued to torture without pause or slowdown.
In 2006 Time Magazine recognized McCain's efforts to supposedly ban torture in naming him one of America's 10 Best Senators. Time made no mention of the fact that torture had always been illegal, the fact that Bush had thrown out the new law with a "signing statement," or the fact that the United States was continuing to torture people on a large scale.
Also in 2006 McCain voted in favor of the Military Commissions Act which supposedly left torture decisions up to the president. And in February 2008, McCain voted against a bill that would supposedly ban torture, and then applauded Bush for vetoing the bill. I've talked to plenty of torture fans at McCain-Palin rallies. They know they're backing the torture ticket. Why won't even the independent progressive media admit it?
Second, this is a teachable moment because not just McCain palled around with Pinochet. Without the efforts of a number of fine upstanding Americans, there never would have been a President Pinochet. The idea to overthrow Chile's democratically elected President Salvador Allende Gossens originated with Harold Geneen, chief operating officer of the International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation, and his fellow board member and former CIA director, still then CIA employee, John McCone, who took the idea to National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and to CIA Director Richard Helms. Donald Kendall, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Pepsi-Cola , and former employer of then president Richard Nixon, took the idea to Nixon, Kissinger and Attorney General John Mitchell. Kissinger consulted with David Rockefeller of Chase Manhattan Bank. David Atlee Phillips, who had already worked on the successful U.S. overthrow of President Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala and William Broe were named co-directors of the CIA's new Chile Task Force. On September 11, 1973, the United States executed a brutal coup, murdering Allende and many others. One of the last Americans to meet with Allende, the previous December in New York, was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, George H. W. Bush.
If you haven't already, pick up a copy of the 2006 bestseller by Stephen Kinzer, Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change From Hawaii to Iraq. This book leaves out overthrows the United States only marginally supported, and leaves out a long list of invasions that did not involve regime change. Kinzer focuses on cases of U.S. managed regime change on foreign soil. He provides the story of Pinochet's rise to power that no one is talking about, and quite a few other stories we desperately need to start talking about if we are going to avoid repeating them. Aside from a perjury conviction for Helms, I don´t think anyone has paid any penalty for what they did to Allende and the people of Chile. And, of course, Bush Jr. was well aware of that when he launched his campaigns of illegal invasion, assassination, detention, torture, and war crimes. Successors to Nixon and Bush will know very well whether anyone is ever held accountable, and that knowledge will determine their behavior.